Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dumb and Dumber To

Directors:  Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden, Kathleen Turner, Steve Tom, Rachel Melvin, Rob Riggle
Running Time: 109 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★ (out of ★★★★) 

Twenty years is a long time to wait for a sequel. A lot has happened in movies since Dumb and Dumber was released 1994, including one unsuccessful 2003 prequel, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, which isn't considered canonical (if such a word can even be applied this franchise). Long-delayed sequels are tricky though. Wait just long enough and an nostalgiac appetite builds amongst fans to see what's become of their favorite characters. But wait too long and it can feel as if the window of opportunity closed, the prospects of a sequel carrying decreasing relevance and even less excitement. But at least the pressure's finally off. That's the weird spot the original's directors, The Farrelly Brothers, find themselves in.

This is a sequel that feels like it's happening because it eventually had to. But if that's the case, it still could have been a great comedy that stayed true to the tone and style of the first film, one of the funniest of the 90's. Instead we get an overplotted, gross-out comedy that barely shows flashes of that, but feels mostly like it was written by a committee. The number of credited screenwriters only confirm it, and help explain why this took two decades to get off the ground. Maybe somewhere, there's unreleased footage of  half a dozen writers locked in a room trying to work out the painstaking details of Dumb and Dumber To's plot. Watching that may make for a better viewing experience, considering what does end up on screen curiously lacks so much of what made the original work.

Picking up exactly twenty years after the events of the first film, Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) has been committed to a psychiatric hospital, seemingly unable to talk or function, but frequently visited by his best friend, Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels). But it's all an obvious, but admittedly clever callback to the original, with Lloyd revealing his vegetative state to be a "brilliant" prank he's stretched out over two decades to get one over on Harry. Upon Lloyd's return to civilization, Harry reveals he's in dire need of a kidney and finds out from former flame Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner) the existence of a long-lost daughter named Penny Pinchelow (Rachel Melvin) who could be his potential donor. With this info, Harry and Lloyd embark on a road trip to track her down, which eventually takes them to a science convention in El Paso. But her adoptive family have other plans, especially stepmother Adele (Laurie Holden) and her housekeeper/lover Travis (Rob Riggle), who plot to steal her famous scientist husband's billion dollar mystery invention. Needless to say, Harry and Lloyd's presence complicate that.

While it's easy to look at the first film (or any favorite for that matter) through rose-colored nostalgia glasses, it's clear from the very first gag that something's off here, as it takes forever to get to a punchline delivered far smoother in the original. But it's actually the opening half of the film, in which we're reintroduced to Lloyd and Harry, that ends up being the strongest, promising that we might get something at least resembling a worthy, hilarious continuation. There are two moments that sent me howling to the floor with laughter and it's fitting that, like its predecessor, both play as almost effortless throwaways poking fun at the lead characters' stupidity. The first is a joke about an obituary while the other comes later and involves a hearing aid. But that's pretty much the extent of it as so much of the running time is spent trying to unravel an increasingly involved plot that piles on one twist and complication after another. The idea of Harry and Lloyd's presence at a science convention full of tech geeks should present a handful of potentially hilarious scenarios. Unfortunately, they burn out of them about half-way through and the final act becomes a slog to wade through.

As expected, Carrey and Daniels slide back into their roles with relative ease and are far from the problem. Still, something seems to be missing, or more accurately, holding them back. It's impossible to ignore the fact that we now have two fifty and sixty somethings trying to recreate characters they played twenty years ago. The project has been gestating for so long that both have gone from being major stars to needing a comeback to being stars again to to arriving at a point where we couldn't care less either way. Mostly, they do a serviceable job in the face of a "Why are we doing this?" feeling subtly permeating under the surface of every scene. Kathleen Turner is game as Harry's ex, if by "game" means she's again signed on to a comedy where her physical appearance is mocked. As Harry's daughter, Rachel Melvin isn't put in any kind of position to succeed with Penny being portrayed as every bit the airhead as her biological dad, if not more so, and more annoyingly. At first the joke's funny, until the Farrellys start pounding us over the head with it just to make sure we know just how dumb she is.

Carrey's The Majestic co-star Laurie Holden wisely plays her villainous role as straight as possible, ironically invoking a younger Kathleen Turner while Rob Riggle nearly steals the show in dual roles as the sleazy, conniving Travis and his FBI agent twin brother. If nothing else, the film does have relatively strong antagonists who could have been even more entertaining with a focused script. And in a head-scratching move, Bill Murray makes an uncredited, dialogue-free cameo appearance with his face concealed.  Even the briefest glimpse of the actor or his delivery of a single line would have guaranteed a huge reaction so it makes little sense not to advertise or utilize someone of his comedic magnitude in a project that desperately needs it. Jennifer Lawrence's decision to drop out of her supposedly scheduled cameo at the last minute and escape this mess now looks like a brilliant move, even if her presence would have also provided a huge boost. She probably discovered what most audiences will watching this: Fandom has its limits. 

As strange as it seems, the biggest disappointment of all might be the lack of a memorable soundtrack. It's rarely acknowledged but the original had one of the most interesting soundtracks of the decade, serving as a 90's time capsule highlighting many the era's more eclectic alt-rock acts, while also flowing perfectly within the context of the film. Here, Australian electronic band Empire of the Sun provide the music and some other songs show up, but I'd be hard-pressed to recall even one. The look of the film is also decidedly lower budget, lacking the bigger-feeling scope of the first and making it visually indistinguishable from any other comedy you'd catch on VOD.

At times, you can actually sense them holding back with the characters, struggling to go all out within the limiting confines of a PG-13 rating. Strangely, it still could have been worse and Carrey and Daniels are fine in it, but the Farrellys' failure to set this sequel apart from similar efforts that have poorly aped their formula is disconcerting. Either they simply waited too long, or more frighteningly, Dumber Dumber To really is as good as it can be and we've gotten exactly what we deserve. If that's true, then maybe fans really have moved on and it's the filmmakers who need to catch up.          


Francisco Gonzalez said...

Wow so sad, I guess Jim Carrey has really reached the end...can he ever be as good as he once was? I think it might be time to just do something with some relevance....some deep film exploring life and whatnot...cause this silly funny thing just isn't him anymore? Or maybe something funny, but really dark or something? Whatever he does...he better make something that matters...soon! Cause this is just sad!

jeremythecritic said...

Yeah, I'm not sure what's going with Carey. Whenever he tries to go darker and more dramatic, audiences reject it. Then when he attempts to turn back the clock with stuff like this it's just embarrassing. Kind of the same problem Adam Sandler has right now.